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US President Barack Obama Not Ready to condemn Israel over Gaza ship attack


THE US has declined to condemn Israel for its raid on a humanitarian flotilla headed for Gaza, but said the incident showed Middle East peace talks were needed “more than ever”.

The White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did describe the situation in Gaza as “untenable” and “unacceptable,” but Washington’s reaction to the raid did not match the explicit rebukes of Israel of some of its allies.

As diplomatic fallout multiplied, and threatened to derail a bid to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, President Barack Obama also called key regional power broker, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was earlier asked directly whether his boss would condemn Israel over the drama in international waters in which nine people were killed by Israeli commandos.

Speaking carefully, Gibbs stuck to the language of a UN Security Council statement issued late Sunday (local time) on the raid.

The statement condemned “those acts which resulted in the loss of at least ten civilians and many wounded”, but did not specifically say whether the Israeli raid or actions of pro-Palestinian supporters caused the violence.

It also called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” probe into the incident conforming to international standards, Mr Gibbs said.

“We’re obviously supportive of that.”

Mrs Clinton said Washington supported an “Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation”.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley explained why Washington thought Israel should carry out the investigation rather than an independent international body.

“These were Israeli forces that carried out this action and we think they’re in the best position to investigate what instructions were given to these forces, how was the situation when they approached the flotilla, and what transpired onboard that ship,” he said.

The deadly maritime confrontation threatens to stymie US peace moves again at a time when the Obama administration has just restarted “proximity” peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Mr Gibbs said that he did not think the incident, which triggered global fury, would have “a great impact” on Washington’s ties with the Muslim world, despite staunch US support for Israel.

Israel has blamed activists on a Turkish vessel, Mavi Marmara, for the confrontation, saying its troops were attacked as they boarded the ship and that nine passengers were killed in the ensuing fight.

But passengers disputed that version of events, saying that those on board were not armed with anything more threatening than a few wooden batons.

The showdown provoked a crisis in Israel’s relations with Turkey – once its closest Muslim ally – as diplomatic sources in Ankara confirmed at least four of the dead were Turkish.

It also provoked another diplomatic headache for Washington, as Mr Obama had expended considerable effort trying to maintain good relations with Turkey, a rising regional power which is also key in the confrontation with Iran.

In his call with Mr  Erdogan, who earlier branded the raid a “bloody massacre” Mr Obama expressed his “deep condolences for the loss of life and injuries resulting from the Israeli military operation against the Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza”, the White House said.

“The President affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security,” a White House statement said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been due at the White House on Tuesday (local time) for talks seen as an effort to move on from recent and rare public disagreements with Mr Obama.

But he cancelled the visit to return home to deal with the crisis. The White House said that Mr Obama’s talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas next week here were still on as scheduled.

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